District 96 school board members say they’re happy with this latest site plan for the rear area of the Central/Hauser campus, which includes ample playing field space which would be entirely separate from the parking area, where before- and after-school pickup and drop-off would also take place. | DLA ARCHITECTS, LSD

The architect for Riverside Elementary School District 96 unveiled the most recent concept plan to modify the rear outdoor area of the Hauser-Central campus to achieve the district’s goal of separating play spaces and parking at the school board’s Nov. 16 meeting. 

The new plan calls for a 51,000-square-foot greenspace divided into a baseball field and a soccer field. The type of turf for the field has yet to be decided upon.

While the school district doesn’t expect to break ground on the improvements until at least summer 2024, school board members expressed support for the plan, although it could still be altered in the future.

“We think that this is a good plan to advance forward and make work,” said school board member Joel Marhoul, who chairs the board’s facilities committee. “Other people in the community have input as well.”

The school district has no cost estimates since the plan is still in the concept stage, but Marhoul acknowledged the cost will be significant.

“It’s our largest campus and we need to improve it,” school board member Lynda Murphy said. “It’s a significant cost but it’s a significant investment in our student experience and our safety.”

The new plan updates a previous concept plan discussed in May. The previous plan had a playground and flower beds behind the schools with an area for four square and gaga ball. But those areas were eliminated after the architects had discussions teachers, who concluded that more active play space was a priority, which led to a larger field area and an enlarged basketball court.

“We heard not so much gaga ball, but definitely basketball, definitely more green space,” said architect Ryan Kelley of DLA Architects, the lead designer.

The new plan increases the green space behind the schools to 51,000 square feet compared to the 30,000 square feet envisioned in the previous plan.

The plan would put a basketball court with two hoops just south of a baseball field. Currently there is a basketball hoop near where Central and Hauser merge, but it’s not separated from an area where cars can be parked. 

The parking lot would be slightly increased to accommodate 90 spaces, up from the current 86. The parking lot would require a zoning variance from the village of Riverside which requires 114 parking spaces. 

“This is a concept that has to go through the village,” Marhoul said adding that there might be some horse-trading.

Some teachers and staff would still have to park on Akenside Road.

“I’m in support putting parking on the streets; that that tends to be a touchy point with some of the neighbors,” Marhoul said.

Access to the parking lot would only be from Akenside Road, with traffic following a one-way loop around the parking lot to a new pickup and drop-off area at the west side of the parking lot. 

Vehicular access from Woodside Road would be eliminated in this new plan, but pedestrian and bicycle access from Woodside Road would remain through an 18-foot-wide lane large enough to get emergency vehicles through.

This design is intended to separate kids from cars as much as possible by moving play areas away from parking and eliminating vehicular traffic next to the school. 

“This makes it safer as well, because you don’t have that sea of cars that want to go through the campus,” Marhoul said.

The new arrangement is designed to reduce the crowded and sometimes dangerous pickup and drop-off area on Woodside Road in front of the schools.

The existing playground east of Central School would be redone but remain in its current location. The new playground would be about the same size as the new playground at Hollywood School. Architect Ryan Kelley proposed adding a fence around the playground for safety reasons. 

“It’s something that we would have to discuss with the village,” Kelley said. “It would be a variation in the zoning ordinance … and we would have to do it in a thoughtful and sympathetic way.”

The plan also proposes adding a new crosswalk across Woodside Road in front of the main Hauser Junior High entrance. The school district will discuss with the village ways to slow traffic on Woodside. 

The new plan will be presented to the Central and Hauser PTOs in January for more input.

The school district will eventually seek a public hearing on the plan before the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission. The village board will have to approve any variances that are needed. School officials have already discussed the plan in general terms with Matthew Buckley, the Riverside director of public safety.

The redesign of the outdoor spaces could also trigger a need for a permit from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which could require more storm water mitigation work.